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Thread: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

  1. #51

    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Being able to play slow airs would be a nice bonus if I ever get good enough to pull it off, but that's probably years away if I live long enough.
    Flutes/whistles are quite challenging for slow music, IME. In fact, I don't play any airs and such on flute, I don't think - even though I've been blowing on wind instruments for 45 years. Rather than build my wind for slow tunes on flute, I've opted for the easier (and fun) sook & blaw approach to airs with wind instruments; these are superbly expressive, and (imo) profoundly easier than other instruments for slow music - of course, expression and articulation are entirely another matter - not saying that any of this is 'easy.' But, for cranking out air, well, it or a gurdy or a bag are the bit. If you want to play airs, try picking up a box - you might get into it much quicker than working up your 'air' on a flute .. unless you've good lungs! They're a bit of a poorman's pipe ..

    *But ya, now that I think - ah the flute does legato well. It's a keen instrument does legato and diddly quite well .. with all the bells and whistles of other instruments I often forget and feel guilty for not playing it more.
    Last edited by catmandu2; Jan-13-2016 at 10:44pm.

  2. #52
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    Flutes/whistles are quite challenging for slow music, IME. In fact, I don't play any airs and such on flute, I don't think - even though I've been blowing on wind instruments for 45 years.
    Yeah, even fiddlers eventually run out of room on the bow with a sustained note, but at least they don't have to take a breath. Pipes do have the advantage there. My fiddler S.O. hangs out with pipers (mostly the Scottish variety) and I know she'd love it if I took up the pipes, but I'm just not young enough. Or dedicated enough.

    What I can do on flute is the slower stuff that isn't really a slow air and has a steady meter like Braes of Lochiel, or Farewell to Uist. Also reels when they're played as "slow reels" like the Bothy Band version of Maids of Mitchelstown. Brilliant tune on flute. Now if I could just half-hole those F-naturals cleanly...

    If you want to play airs, try picking up a box - you might get into it much quicker than working up your 'air' ( ) on a flute .. unless you've good lungs! I think they're a bit of a poorman's pipe ..
    Box was in the running a couple of years ago as something to learn, instead of flute. Sometimes I wonder if I should have tried that instead, but what killed the idea was a combination of things that pointed to flute instead.

    First thing, a decent button accordion is a *lot* more expensive than a decent keyless Irish flute, and very few stores or repair shops to choose from here in the USA hinterlands. Second, a button box would be another instrument locked into fixed pitch like mandolin, and unlike mandolin you can't even really tune it to match other players in a session. A flute with a tuning slide can at least get you in the ballpark with other players, as well as allow access to bending notes, and playing all those wonky things like the slightly sharp "Piper's C" that shows up in a lot of tunes.

    And finally, box is another very fussy instrument like mandolin, needing lots of care and adjustment. Talk to a box player about humidity and reed maintenance (ugh). I've already got one fussy instrument with the mandolin. Keyless wooden flute is dead simple; it's a stick with holes in it. No excuses, no blaming the strings, the pick, or the setup like mandolin. It's all in the player... unfortunately.

  3. #53

    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Well, I like old Hohners - and indeed are a standard in their numerous array of styles that have been lovingly deployed in the music (112, 113, 114, p-work, p-wood, pres-, double ray, et al) with some pedigree for a characteristically good-sounding, low-cost, ruggedly durable and dependable box (albeit its mostly mechanical limitations compared with Italian boxes). A fully decent 'quint' box can be had for a few hundred (semitone boxes more, and less readily had, but still a good buy) and readily available (old boxes are a weaknesses of mine). Of course, many also enjoy posh boxes - but seems like the vast majority of players still own a few old Hohners, and probably we've all learned on them. Vintage reeds hold up very well - it's the waxes and felts that are vulnerable, but that's not rocket science - just a steady hand. Lots of folks fettle their own - a well-fettled Hohner is a very capable and rugged kit. Boxes are very good and low-technology, so DIY is totally viable.

    I've suffered from more MAD than most other instrument fixes.

    See, if a fellow had a flute, a concertina, and a fiddle (okay, with a mandolin too in a double case) - this person would be content right?
    Last edited by catmandu2; Jan-13-2016 at 11:36pm.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Well, that's the path not taken then (box).

    I should also mention that I live with a fiddler who has very good intonation and a good ear for hearing when we're out of tune. We play tunes together here at the house several times a week, and attend local sessions and workshops. A flute with a tuning slide just seemed a lot easier for tuning in a social environment. I didn't want to be "that" person with a fixed pitch instrument that everyone else has to tune to, or else grin and bear the dissonance. I've been traumatized by too many concertina players, I guess.

  5. #55

    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Well, that's the path not taken then (box).

    I'd be happy to send you a little presswood in A/D to try your hand - it's notoriously intuitive and fun - it was designed to be. It's got a few out-of-tune reeds, but the rest are beautiful .. it's enough to learn to play on. You should have seen the knackered old 3-row box I learnt on! .. some of the notes wheezed and buckled like an old bray donkey .. Just play for yourself - no one wants to hear you play airs anyway! (especially your SO - she'd throw you out)

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Back to tremolo

    On Monday I played with the practice band and used a lot of tremolo on the Star of The County Down, it sounded quite good , I think because it was playing behind a couple of violins and adding texture to their sound. I tried it on my own and it sounded horrible.

  7. #57

    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by derbex View Post
    Back to tremolo
    Yes I think you do what you need (with a mandolin) to convey the music. Here there seems no particular compunction, for example (skip to 3:40") -



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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    Yes I think you do what you need (with a mandolin) to convey the music. Here there seems no particular compunction, for example (skip to 3:40") -
    That was so nice a tremolo I was expecting an Italian tune!

  10. #59

    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?



    The mndln can be a delicate little affair. It does what it does well -
    Last edited by catmandu2; Jan-14-2016 at 3:44pm.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    That was so nice a tremolo I was expecting an Italian tune!
    Yes, surprising! And very smooth. However it's one small example among just a few others mentioned in this thread, and very hard to find many other supporting examples to demonstrate that it's considered a standard technique in the music.

    If rapid-fire Italian style tremolo was a great thing in this music, one might think we would hear more recorded examples of it from the prominent players.

    I reviewed my collection of music from the few mandolin players in Irish trad who have released mandolin-focused albums, including Marla Fribish, Luke Plumb, Simon Mayor, and Michael Kerry. Also a nice clip of John Doyle playing mandola on a slow tune ("Little Christmas") on a Liz Carroll album. None of them use constant tremolo on slow tunes. I know that's "argument from authority" and we should all do what we want... but I think it's interesting, and maybe an indication of the current status of the technique.

    Not to stir the pot, or anything.

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  13. #61
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    I reviewed my collection of music from the few mandolin players in Irish trad who have released mandolin-focused albums, including Marla Fribish, Luke Plumb, Simon Mayor, and Michael Kerry. Also a nice clip of John Doyle playing mandola on a slow tune ("Little Christmas") on a Liz Carroll album. None of them use constant tremolo on slow tunes.
    That's what I gather from my own experience hearing Irish traditional music - and why it was a surprise to hear.

  14. #62

    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    (skip to 3:40") - Two mandolins - Barnie McKenna and John Sheehan

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by des View Post
    (skip to 3:40") - Two mandolins - Barnie McKenna and John Sheehan
    Well, two does make a difference!

    I think it is worth noting that neither of these two guys (who were both in the Dubliners) were primarily mandolinists - Barney mainly played tenor banjo and John the fiddle.

    In Ireland the tenor banjo is very popular, and the technique involved in playing triplets in fast tunes on the banjo is not so different from playing tremolo on the mandolin, so I think it is probably fair to say that you might expect Irish tenor banjoists to use some tremolo when they play slower stuff on mandolin, which does seem to be true of Barney.

    I also think that if you started on guitar, then you may well approach the mandolin from a more chord-based angle (I'm thinking of the mention of John Doyle in post #60) and your emphasis may be on an arpeggio chordal effect (for example) rather than a lot of tremolo. That is certainly true of myself at any rate.

    Incidentally, in foldedpath's same post, I think it is interesting that of the four mandolin examples given, only Michael Kerry is actually Irish (I think Doyle's mandola playing is slightly different, as noted above), and in fact neither Simon or Luke's playing actually sounds very Irish to me. I haven't heard that much of Michael or Marla, to be honest, but my impression is that they don't play all that many slow airs (please correct me if I'm wrong).

    As a matter of interest, I checked out Mick Moloney's 'Strings Attached' CD, to find it doesn't have any slow tunes at all. Even Loftus Jones is taken a fair lick, with a lot of triplets and some double stopping but not really any tremolo. You can tell he also plays banjo and guitar, I think.

    Edit: Just listened to a bit of Marla Fibish playing Eleanor Plunkett, and it is true that she doesn't seem to use tremolo on it. That's her style, I guess. I still think it would sound ok though.
    Last edited by Dagger Gordon; Jan-15-2016 at 7:50am.
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    In Ireland the tenor banjo is very popular, and the technique involved in playing triplets in fast tunes on the banjo is not so different from playing tremolo on the mandolin, so I think it is probably fair to say that you might expect Irish tenor banjoists to use some tremolo when they play slower stuff on mandolin, which does seem to be true of Barney.
    That may be true for Barney, but personally I can't see any relation or derivation between mandolin tremolo technique and the "treble" ornaments used by Irish tenor banjo players.

    Banjo treble ornaments are a flurry of three evenly spaced notes, played as fast and staccato as possible, to make up for the fact that traditional ornaments like cuts and rolls are so very hard to do on a non-sustaining instrument. Some banjo players play them so fast and staccato that you can barely hear a pitch of those three notes. Mandolin tremolo on the other hand, is used to extend the duration of a note, like playing with a smooth, long bow motion on a fiddle. It's not an ornamentation or articulation of the note.

    YMMV, but for me, treble ornaments and tremolo are totally different techniques meant to do different things. It would sound weird if you played tremolo as fast as the pick motion of a tenor banjo treble ornament.

    I also think that if you started on guitar, then you may well approach the mandolin from a more chord-based angle (I'm thinking of the mention of John Doyle in post #60) and your emphasis may be on an arpeggio chordal effect (for example) rather than a lot of tremolo. That is certainly true of myself at any rate.
    FWIW, John Doyle plays mandola on that track I mentioned in a very idiomatically "Irish mandolin" style that doesn't sound like his guitar playing. He can switch modes like that; I've even seen him play fiddle at one workshop jam. That particular tune is a relaxed tempo, not an air, and a little too fast for something you might tremolo instead. But for reference here's a sample of it on the Amazon download page (click the preview arrow):

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001ROS118...m_ws_tlw_trk12

    Incidentally, in foldedpath's same post, I think it is interesting that of the four mandolin examples given, only Michael Kerry is actually Irish (I think Doyle's mandola playing is slightly different, as noted above), and in fact neither Simon or Luke's playing actually sounds very Irish to me. I haven't heard that much of Michael or Marla, to be honest, but my impression is that they don't play all that many slow airs (please correct me if I'm wrong).
    That's essentially the point I'm making. It's hard to find many examples of mandolin players whether they're trueblood Irish or not (and I'm not sure that matters, but that's another discussion) who play a slow air, with or without tremolo to extend the note, because the instrument just isn't ideal for it.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    That may be true for Barney, but personally I can't see any relation or derivation between mandolin tremolo technique and the "treble" ornaments used by Irish tenor banjo players.
    No? Well surely they both involve the ability of your picking hand to move up and down very quickly. If you can manage to get good triplets on the banjo I would say you were well on the way to being technically able to play good tremolo.

    I can see that you don't like the idea of a mandolin playing slow airs, especially using tremolo.
    That has not been my experience. Ever since I started recording Scottish music over 30 years ago, I have always included a lot of slow airs, both live and on record, and to be honest they have always been well received.

    I'm afraid I just don't get your objection to it.
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    The first person who I actually saw in person playing Irish music was an Irishman I met in a bar 40 years ago (and we have been friends ever since) who took out his mandolin and started playing and singing. His technique was not great (with hindsight) but it was very effective. He would sing Irish songs backed up with single notes and a few two note chords thrown in here and there. It was quite pleasant. He also played a lot of melodies, mainly jigs, and some slow airs, which he tremeloed. I thought they sounded quite beautiful, so I am surprised people here are saying the mandolin does not lend itself to slow airs. I have also met quite a few good Irish mandolin players over the years. I had the impression the mandolin was quite common in Irish music (Andy Irvine, for example).

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    I'm afraid I just don't get your objection to it.
    Personal taste?

    And also a love for the sound of airs on sustaining instruments like the pipes, flutes, and fiddles. My ears just can't seem to make that connection when I hear tremolo. On slower tunes, I think modern mandolins have plenty of sustain to allow space between notes on the slower tunes. But again, that's just personal taste.

    I don't think we have enough examples from different mandolin players to establish tremolo as either a standard convention or something to be avoided as some kind of general rule. So it comes down to what we individually prefer to hear and play. As a relatively recent instrument in the tradition, we're all making this up as we go along.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by ald View Post
    I had the impression the mandolin was quite common in Irish music (Andy Irvine, for example).
    Andy Irvine is an exception rather than the rule - he stands for what many of us perceive as Irish music after the 70s revival, but the instrument is mainly a tool of song accompaniment for him (and masterly exceptional accompaniment at that, always), and his style is not exactly what you'd have heard at some crossroads session in the middle of nowhere before that era. His style has become a tradition of its own, in a way, and he always got away with playing a Romanian tune in an Irish music performance.

    Much the same can be said about the Dubliners, by the way, with whom Andy Irvine spent some time.

    So, "does it sound like Irish trad?" immediately evokes the counter-question "where in Ireland and when?" meaning "who played it, when and where were you to hear it and associate it with Ireland?" Association can be made in many ways:
    - geographical - you were in Ireland when you heard it (since I heard the Pet Shop Boys' It's a Sin on the radio all the time while driving through Ireland for the first time, it will always be Irish music in some remote corner of my head)
    - instrument - some instruments are generally bound to fit an Irish stereotype, even in non-Irish music (tin whistle, uileann pipes come to mind)

    Maybe the original question should be rephrased "Tremolo for good sound with Irish music?" and would be far easier to answer that way.
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    My ears just can't seem to make that connection when I hear tremolo.
    I can understand that - a mandolin player playing tremolo has a hard time not starting Doctor Zhivago in my head. But yes, that's a personal thing.
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  25. #70

    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    The mandolin in Irish/Isles music then constitutes some 'problems' - much as in other traditional forms when a 'new' instrument is introduced. If played in such a style (such as the trem in the Ennis clip), it sounds 'Italian.' It wouldn't be the 'pure drop' then, would it?, but rather more a 'modern'/continental inflection (as with modern trends generally in the music - faster and faster, supergrouops, 'fusions,' etc); not surprising, as the mandolin is a 'modern' implement in the idiom. The issue has its correlate/equivalent among many other forms, as the dialectic - trad vs new - evinces everywhere .

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    With crossover instruments it's all about playing style.

    I've heard older recordings of Irish fiddlers and flute/whistle players and they had very pronounced regional styles, which are less so after that "Irish music after the 70s revival" period where certain players really influenced the genre and younger fiddlers players also played other related styles of "celtic" music.

    So the mandolin has been an odder instrument to adapt a style, the closest older traditional instrument to it is the banjo, and that's certainly not as old as the flute, whistle, and of course the fiddle and pipes.

    Has anyone done a study on the mandolin in Ireland? I need to search the net.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    It's hard to find many examples of mandolin players whether they're trueblood Irish or not (and I'm not sure that matters, but that's another discussion) who play a slow air, with or without tremolo to extend the note, because the instrument just isn't ideal for it.
    I've been playing slow airs for at least 40 years on the mandolin, often but not always with tremelo, but this is the first time I've heard "the instrument just isn't ideal for it"...

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  30. #73

    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Great thread.

    This year's Temple Bar Tradfest (the spell checker tried to turn that into "tardiest") features among many others Gilbert O'Sullivan, Duke Special, the Stunning and Luka Bloom. It also of course features many, many musicians whose place in the tradition is more obviously "traditional" such as Martin Hayes, Sean Potts, Kevin Glackin, Noel Hill and Julie Fowlis - herself not Irish but most certainly Gaelic. And it also features people who, just like Barney Mc Kenna and John Sheehan, manage to be self-evidently part of the tradition while being hugely popular entertainers - this year includes the Fureys, The Dublin Legends and Foster & Allen.

    More and more I'm coming around to view that this wide range of people - audience and artists - wanting to be part of "the tradition" is a remarkably fine thing. Is not the point of a "tradition" that it's alive and not frozen? That it connects to popular culture ? That it overlaps with other streams ?

    So ..... I don't like the idea that tremolo on mandolin doesn't belong with "good sound in Irish traditional music". Hey - that was Barney Mc Kenna and John Sheehan with Seamus Ennis on "An Poc ar Buille"
    "
    To connect this with mandolin tremolo - Dagger's point about the tenor banjo in ireland reminds me of the guy who plays tenor banjo at the end of Dun Laoghaire East Pier most Sundays - he plays "Lara's Theme" (Dr Zhivago) at a slow pace with a pretty good tremolo. Not exactly purist "trad" - but only in Ireland.

    And more to Dagger's point about triplets, banjos and mandolin, and to what Beanzy said earlier - listen to this kid, Tiarnan O'Connail (who should be getting more attention on this site). Particularly on the last of the three reels - written for mandolin - his playing seems almost approaching duo style - approaching an almost constant stream of ornamentation / triplet tremolo with the melody lurking underneath, occasionally popping up. I'm reminded her of tremolo used the way it is in choro - as ornamentation - and in gypsy jazz with triplets almost as syncopation>

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Has anyone done a study on the mandolin in Ireland? I need to search the net.
    If you find anything useful, let us know. Info seems to be thin on the ground. We do know that people were playing the mandolin in Irish trad style back in the 1930's and probably 1920's, from this quote (which I've mentioned before here) from the Chieftains' fiddler Martin Fay in their authorized biography:

    "As a young boy Martin remembers hearing his uncle Andy Kelly, who was a famous mandolin player in traditional circles. But the music didn't impress the young boy any more than the other kinds of music he was hearing at the time."
    Martin Fay was born in 1936 and raised in Dublin, so that places Andy Kelly somewhere in the late 1930's to early 1940's. Possibly the 1920's when he started. If people were calling him a "famous mandolin player in traditional circles" then it must have been a well-accepted instrument. If anyone scares up more info, please post it.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Moore View Post
    I've been playing slow airs for at least 40 years on the mandolin, often but not always with tremelo, but this is the first time I've heard "the instrument just isn't ideal for it"...
    Depends on how you feel about tremolo, I guess.

    And also whether we're talking about simply a "slow tune," or an actual slow air that includes extended phrasing, variable tempo, and pauses at the end of a phrase. Like the clips I posted above, with Joanie Madden playing Roisin Dubh on whistle, or Cillian Vallelly playing Port na bPúcaí on pipes. There is no way you're going to get through an air that slow-paced on mandolin without using tremolo. That's what I meant about the instrument not being ideal for it, in reference specifically to slow airs.

    If you're choosing not to use tremolo, just the sustain of the note on a mandolin, then you're probably playing a "slow tune" and not an actual slow air where the notes are spaced too far apart.

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